The Myth of Austin Not Building Enough Roads Isn’t True

This is one of four truths published by Farm&City in a report presented to the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board, February 9, 2020

There is a myth that local decision makers have somehow denied the people of Austin the roads they deserve, causing the people of Austin to suffer more from traffic than others and more than they would be suffering today if these poor decisions had not been made.

As one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation, in a time when the human population is still rapidly growing worldwide, Austin will continue to grow rapidly for the next several decades. People fear what that growth will do to our already failing transportation system, but as we have learned, there are greater threats than congestion facing current and future Texans. Nevertheless, especially with this rapid growth, has Austin not been building enough roads?

Available data on lane miles of roads does not support this myth. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio each has less road per capita than CAMPO. We used the annually published Roadway Inventory from TxDOT Transportation Planning/Programming Division. They publish data on total lane miles of road by county, MPO, and TxDOT district, including separating out local and state roads.

Given an average lane width of about 12 feet, the Austin region provides about 846 square feet of impervious roadway per person, 219 square feet more than provided for Houstonians.

NCTCOG = North Central Texas Council of Governments (DFW)
HGAC = Houston – Galveston Area Council (HOU)
AAMPO = Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (SA)
CAMPO = Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (ATX)
RGVMPO = Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization
EPMPO = El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization
KTMPO = Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization
CCMPO = Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization
SETRPC = Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission (Beaumont)
PBMPO = Permian Basin Metropolitan Planning Organization

The Austin region has more state roads per capita than other large Texas MPOs and more local roads per capita. We looked back at this data point in 2005, and the Austin region had more lane miles per capita than the other large metro regions back then as well.

We have built a lot of roads in the Austin region, spending massive sums to subsidize the option of driving alone in a car or truck. Whether or not this has improved lives or our economy is debatable, but the persistent myth that Austin somehow has been denied roads simply does not hold up to examination with the existing data when we compare it to other Texas metro regions. 

There are four blog posts in this series:

The Myth of Not Building Enough Roads Isn’t True
TXDOT: Austin Has Not Received Less Per Capita Than Other Large Metros
Vehicle Miles Traveled: Austinites Drive More Than Other Texans
Sprawl: Austin is the Most Sub-urban Large Metro in Texas

Four truths about land use and transportation in the Capital Area
Follow-up data and research on comments to the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board on November 4, 2019

Farm&City Executive Director Jay Blazek Crossley speaking to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board (TPB)

At the November 4, 2019 meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board (TPB), Farm&City Executive Director Jay Blazek Crossley spoke during the public comment period to ask that each leader ensure their city, county, or the MPO itself quickly join TxDOT and large Texas cities in adopt- ing responsible goals to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on our streets and roads.

The TPB held a visioning exercise that day and Crossley decided to raise some questions and con- cepts that he felt are too important not to share. Austin Council member Alison Alter asked that we share some of the documentation for these con- cepts with the members of the TPB and provide our sources and analytical methods.

Presented here are brief discussions of these concepts with links for anyone wishing to further ex- plore these ideas; or to help us understand if we made mistakes with this data or our understanding of it. Each of these topics is worthy of long reports, but Farm&City is a tiny nonprofit that is trying to help improve public policy across Texas. Also, we wanted to use this opportunity to try to be helpful and brief and introduce some concepts, as opposed to trying to give definitive takes.

Most importantly, we really do hope every city, county & CAMPO itself – by the end of 2020 – will adopt responsible goals & action plans to end traffic deaths in our region. We hope our work helps your efforts to improve the health, safety, & quality of life for all the people of the Austin region.